You ask me about forgiveness? I know about forgiveness. Itís the one merit I understand in this maze of mortality. I learned forgiveness when I was just a kid. Let me tell you how.
When I was a kid my mother rarely spoke about the war. But every now and then, something would click inside of her--an empty refrigerator, the sight of a homeless person, a mouse scurrying across the floor that reminded her of a human-flesh-gorged rat--and then she would remember. She would remember, and she would need to speak to someone. Many times, I was that someone.
Most Americans can relate their parentsí childhood memories to their own--the discoveries of grade school, the pains and heartaches of high school, the new worlds of college, and the mundane world of work. For me, I could never relate to my parentsí memories. I could never understand. Who can?
Who can relate to my motherís father coming home one night an hour late, clothes torn and crusted red, black and blue and bloodied because his horse was ill and slow returning from the fruit orchards, and some German soldiers beat Grandpa within a lifeís breath for being out after curfew? For being out only an hour past curfew, who can relate?
Who can relate to the story that my mom told about when her family, along with several hundred strangers, were herded up against a brick wall in Warsaw and forced to stand silently as a Polish man pointed out the Juden to German soldiers? Every time the surreal, misguided man said that awful word, Juden, the body that the word chose was dragged kicking and screaming to the other side of that wall and shot dead. Imagine hearing that awful, echoing gun shot and the last, lost breath of life. Luckily, when the Polish man stared at Momís family, Momís 14-year-old brother laughed. He wanted to make the man think that he was happy that these men were slaughtering the Juden. My motherís brother wanted to make these men believe he was on their side. It worked! The Polish man and the soldiers moved on to sack the next face in the crowd. At age 14 my Momís brother knew how to survive, and with a little laughter, probably saved his family. Who can relate?
Who can relate to all of the other awful, heartbreaking stories that I had heard about brutal death and innocence lost? Who can understand such unkind life? I couldnít.
But there was one thing of which I was able to relate a few words that upon hearing changed my lifeís perspective forever. Once, when I was enraged over one of the stories that my mother told me, I screamed, ďI hate the Germans; I wish they were all dead!Ē And my Mom, realizing my dilemma, stared at me for a moment with her gentle, loving eyes and said: ďNo, donít hate themÖforgive them. We all come from the same parents, and we all have the ability to commit the same atrocities. Jew or German. This time, it was the Germans; next time, it might be the Jews. Forgive them. Love and forgiveness is the only thing that will change the world. Itís the only way weíll learn.Ē
And I sat there stunned. From the mouth of a woman who had experienced so much and who had every right to carry hatred and venom, I had never heard words with such love, grace and power. For if this woman, this thread in the human quilt, could forgive such savagery, I knew there were no borders to love. Those few words said by my mother had, for me, the potency of the great speeches said by Martin Luther King or Mahatma Gandhi. I was altered, risen. That was one of the few times in my life that I witnessed God, pure, delicate, transparent. So you see, I know about forgiveness. I witnessed forgiveness.
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